Friday, January 22, 2010

The easier way to record interviews

Any writer who has ever conducted a phone interview has dealt with the issue of recording that conversation. Typically, the setup involves a recorder, a telephone, and a suction-cup type device that hooks onto the telephone. Results vary, but the caller generally sounds as if he or she is in an underwater tunnel, while the interviewer’s voice resonates as if spoken through a bullhorn. When the sound of your own breathing is louder than the voice on the other end of the phone, it can make transcribing a nightmare.

However many bad dreams that scenario evokes, it pales in comparison to discovering that the recorder malfunctioned or ran out of memory, so that nothing was captured. Suddenly the sparse notes you scribbled, as you didn’t want to distract yourself from your interview, become your lifeline as you frantically try to piece together your talk from memory.

Option two for many new-media types is doing the interview via Skype and recording it in order to have a digital on their computers. This is a great solution if you’re super tech-savvy, as it involves installing multiple third-party applications, setting up loads of behind-the-scenes gizmos, buying microphone-equipped headsets and of course being near your computer come interview time.

If neither of those scenarios seem attractive, rest assured. There is another way to get a recording straight to your computer, with optimum quality sound, without paying a single dime. It’s Google Voice.

What the heck is Google Voice?

In the words of Google themselves:
Google Voice gives you one number for all your phones—a phone number that is tied to you, not to a device or a location. Google Voice isn't a phone service, but it lets you manage all of your mobile phones, desk phones, work phones, and VoIP lines. There's nothing to download, upload, or install, and you don't have to make or take calls using a computer.

The most important thing to note in that statement is that THERE’S NOTHING TO DOWNLOAD, UPLOAD OR INSTALL! And you don’t have to make or take calls using a computer! Boiled down, that means you can conduct your interview on ANY PHONE YOU LIKE, be it at work, at home, on your cell or all of them at once (more on that feature later).

And best of all? You don’t pay for any of it.

Tell me more…

The process for setting up your Google Voice account is quick and easy. The hardest part was deciding which custom phone number I liked best. Once I selected that, I went to the Settings link on the top right of the page, selected the phone tab and added my home and cell phone numbers. I then activated them both by clicking the check boxes next to each one. That’s pretty much it.

Don’t call me…wait, DO call me!

Google Voice makes it super-easy to record an incoming call, but I have to repeat: it only records INCOMING CALLS. So the subject of your interview (or their publicist) needs to call you. Just give your brand-new Google Voice number as your contact number. Again, give them your GOOGLE VOICE NUMBER.

If multiple phones are registered, the call will ring through to all checked phones. You choose which is most convenient to answer. This is brilliant, because I’m sure you’ve had an interview call scheduled for noon, and as the time crept ever closer to 1, the urge to grab a snack from the vending machine grew stronger and stronger until made a mad dash down the hall, only to see your voicemail light cheerily blinking as you returned moments later. Completely frustrating!

Now, let’s say you made that dash to the vending area with your cell phone in your pocket. That would ring along with your desk phone, so you’d be able to start the call as you dropped quarters into the slot, then continue as you headed back to your desk with that Snickers bar.

For the record…

After you’ve verified that it is, indeed, your interview subject on the line, it’s a simple matter of pressing “4” on your keypad to enable recording (after you’ve asked permission, of course.) You’ll know it’s begun because you’ll clearly hear the words “call recording on,” sparing you that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize none of your two-hour exposé on rising cafeteria prices was caught on tape.

When finished, pressing “4” a second time disables the record feature (and prompts the helpful “call recording off” message, so you’re never a victim of accidentally disabling this feature). See this feature at work here.

But there’s another issue at hand now, isn’t there? Cell phone minutes being as pricey as they are, you’re probably cursing the need to take that call on your RAZR, using anytime minutes when you’re so close to the end of the month. Don’t fret… did I mention that Google Voice also lets you transfer calls to another phone IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CONVERSATION?

Seamless transition

I’m not talking about hanging up and having your party call back. All you have to do is press the “*” key on the phone you’re using. The other checked phones in your profile will then ring, and you can pick up the handset of the desk phone, press “END” on your mobile and the interviewee is none the wiser.

See how it works here.

Playback is (not) a… well, you know

Once your interview is wrapped, how do you review the gems of knowledge you were just given? By logging into your Google Voice account—your masterpiece will be waiting in your inbox. A word of warning: if your conversation was lengthy, it might take a few minutes for it to appear. Don’t go trashing my good name just yet… give it some time and it should show up.

Once it arrives, click on the Play button to listen to your recording. With a pair of headphones (any ones you have lying around should do), and a word processing program, you can transcribe right onto your computer. You can also e-mail, embed or download the file as an MP3 if you choose.

Where do I sign up?

There are many, many more cool features of Google Voice that I didn’t get into here, and they can all be found by clicking here if you’re interested. This service is technically still in its ‘testing’ phase, so Google Voice is presently only available by invitation (click here to request one). My invite arrived in less than a week; I’ve heard others waited almost three, so there’s no telling when yours will arrive. If you don’t like waiting, those who already have a coveted Google Voice account are granted 3 invites upon signing up, or you can probably “buy” one on eBay or Craigslist (though that totally goes against the idea of it being FREE).

Hope you found this article useful, my fellow interviewers. Happy transcribing!